These days, I am very much caught up in the maya of day-to-day existence. But a few oases of awareness do manage to surface, mostly inadvertently through discussions with my family.
1. Cup of tea?
Belonging to a digitized generation, being brought up under the tutelage of a ‘modern’ Indian mother, and going to progressive schools has turned my daughters into young ladies who consider themselves equally if not more valuable to the planet than their male friends and cousins. Unlike the vast and unfortunate majority of Indian girls their age, they do not consider their gender to be inferior in any way. They feel privileged and entitled to their own choices and demands.
An interesting off-shoot of this point of view is that they look down upon ‘subservient’ Indian woman who serve their husbands tea when they come home from work. And so, two nights ago, my elder one raised her eyebrows in scorn when I offered my partner a cup of tea and went into the kitchen to make it, despite being bone-tired and ready to hit the sack. “Don’t turn into one of those women, mom,” she warned me, which is when I first noticed her prejudice.
“This is not being servile,” I said, heating the water. “This is a gesture of respect and love. He would do the same for me if I asked him to.” She was silent as she absorbed this subtle nuance that lay between inequality and equality of the sexes.
There were two lessons for both of us in that short conversation: (a) There is a difference in serving out of capitulation and serving out of love. It is the difference between compulsion versus choice. As Indian women perched on the edge between emancipation and insensitivity, we need to know what is acceptable to us and where we draw the line – between subservience and affection, between sacrifice and self-assertion. (b) A loving relationship of any kind or between any two people will definitely require some kind of investment. Even the dogs need to be pampered, fed and walked if we want to nurture a bond with them. Making tea or serving breakfast is a small price to pay in the long term, whether I do it or he does (I made a mental note to ask him to make more such domestic gestures for the kids’ sake, to show them that men too would do this for women in an equal relationship – a startling concept perhaps for Indians). We are never diminished in service. As long as the intention is respect, love and equality – and as long as we give and claim service with equal dignity and grace – we only forge our connection further.
2. Fancy showers
I’ve been house-hunting for the past month and have seen almost 25 apartments. None of them, however, worked out. Either there was some little bitty factor that we didn’t want or like (no parking, perhaps, or no place to walk the dogs, or no security, or smaller rooms), or the owner wanted a kind of lease we couldn’t give, or some other reason beyond our control. Finally, when all options fell through, we decided to ‘settle’ for the last option we had, which was a three-bedroom in our own apartment block. However, here too, we didn’t like the old-fashioned doors and bathrooms, and the owners refused to refurbish them for us. It was, for us, definitely a matter of having to compromise on our true dream house, and making do with the only option we had. This led me to a couple of very sleepless nights; I was just not looking forward to moving there. I wanted fancy showers.
I had also not been able to share my dilemma with my father – who is often the most sane voice in such situations – because he and my mom are still sore with me for adopting two dogs, besides other recent choices of mine that they do not approve of. So it took me some amount of courage to pick up the phone and call him for advice.
“I don’t like this house much, but we are still caught up in the momentum of meeting the owner and all that, and I am worried that we will seal the deal and I will be stuck with something I don’t like simply because there is no other choice,” I confessed to him.
“There is always a choice. In this case, you can stay put in your current homes until you find the perfect home of your choice,” he said.
“But we cannot stay in two homes forever,” I argued. “We will be married soon, and how odd will it be to live in two homes?”
“But you don’t have to ‘settle’ for a place you don’t like just because of that,” he said. “What is the hurry? It’s nice to have two homes sometimes. What is wrong with that? Reduce the stress factor. One project at a time is enough, don’t mix up so many things.”
With all the noise of my day-to-day life and tornadoes of doubt in my head, his voice on the phone came like a soothing balm, sweeping away all the sounds and mess. In essence, he had advised me to choose my battles – with plenty of pressure at work and the kids’ final exams coming up, followed by a visit from my partner’s family, followed by possibly our wedding, I already do have a lot on my plate. I don’t need to add a house hunt to it. That can happen later.
And besides, hasn’t nature (read: God) taught me never to ‘settle’? To keep my expectations high and have patience until they are fulfilled? Haven’t I always got the jobs, homes, dogs, relationships of my dreams, and more?
So I took a deep breath, called off the deal, continued our current residence contract, said ‘no thank you’ to all the agents who’d been showing us homes, and generally felt much better about life.
Then, about three hours after this phone conversation, I got this email from The Universe:
Do you ever sometimes wonder, Aekta, if you shouldn’t just come down to earth and settle for a bit less?
Right! Earth’s an illusion, and so are all your dreams of doing, being, and having! So settle for less of what, smoke and mirrors?!
You’re really on lately,
Yup, that said it all. No ‘compromise’.
Here goes then, my dream home: (a) Three large rooms, a study and three bathrooms (b) Large balconies (c) Enough parking (d) Close to a park for dogs (e) New fittings, fancy showers (f) Safety, security (g) Within my budget and other legal, financial constraints (h) Sense of community, good neighbors (i) Close to our current neighborhood.
And as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, I will find myself such a space exactly when it is convenient for me to move there.
So be it.